Q&A: get the work to rest ratio right

I’m a keen cyclist who likes challenges of various kinds (a sportive, an alpine climb or two, a long-distance ride, etc). My main goal this year is the Etape Cymru in September.

I am 62 years old and retired. I once read an article in your magazine about the importance of high-intensity intervals (‘Ride fast to stay young’, Sept 3, 2009) as you get older. As a result I have started doing more gym work on the turbo, concentrating on interval work.

Where I get confused is with work/rest ratios. I have examples of 10sec sprints with 30sec rest, 30sec sprints with 30sec rest and one-minute efforts with two minutes’ rest. Then there is the Tabata Protocol where everything is a ratio of 2:1 (e.g. eight times 20sec flat-out and 10sec rest).

So which sessions are best? Should I also be doing intervals of 3min with 3min recovery and/or 5min efforts with 5min recovery?
Roger Williams

Interval sessions can be quite wide-ranging and confusing, can’t they? But intervals are like tools – they are tools you can use to address different components of fitness during different phases of your training cycle.

First, make an appraisal of your strengths and weaknesses, then think about how they might affect your performance at your target event. The Etape Cymru is a demanding course featuring hard climbs, and the ability to climb effectively while seated relies on strength. A typical interval session to target strength could involve three sets of 4x10sec high-intensity efforts on a resistance that restricts your cadence to below 70rpm. 

This works muscles very hard, so rest 
periods should be appropriately long and 
easy between sets (10min or more). Stop doing this resistance work at least 10-14 
days before your event to ensure your adequate recovery.

Generally, intervals for leg speed involve easy resistance and short max cadence efforts with long rest. To improve your short-term muscular endurance (for short climbs), work with a 3:1 ratio, for example 10x 1min efforts with 3min rest in between.

For all sessions apart from speed and strength, try to maintain a cadence of 90-100rpm. Remember that intervals with short rests that don’t allow full recovery between efforts are designed specifically for improving your aerobic system. Being a veteran rider, your fast-twitch muscles are deteriorating at a greater rate than the 
slow-twitch, so add some strength and speed sessions. And remember to warm up and cool down appropriately.

Rob Mortlock is a BC level three coach

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